Lose Sanchez, and Wenger must go
Arsenal boss simply cannot sell only player worth keeping
In a rather sad irony, Arsenal are trying to keep the one player who isn't really an Arsenal player.
Alexis Sanchez's face just doesn't fit at the Emirates.
He's a lone bull in the china shop. His teammates are the fragile crockery.
Arsene Wenger called him a devil yesterday morning (Singapore time), but the Chilean looked more like a Red Devil from 15 years ago, the kind of force that would've been comfortable in Roy Keane and Paul Scholes' company.
He also does a decent impression of an Arsenal Invincible from 2003/04.
Sanchez's brace in Arsenal's 2-0 win against Sunderland yesterday morning showed again that he's a rugged throwback to the halcyon days at both Highbury and Old Trafford.
Right now, Sanchez stands alone on a rusting, sinking vessel, bucket in hand and feverishly throwing water overboard in a futile effort to stay afloat.
His teammates, meanwhile, are sunning themselves on deck, passing the tanning oil around and comparing bank balances.
No wonder Sanchez wants to leave. He deserves to leave. And if he does, then Arsene Wenger should follow him through the exit.
If the fading force in the Arsenal dugout refuses to acknowledge Sanchez's worth or fails to appreciate the consequences of the Chilean's departure, he's got to go.
I don’t think there are a lot of players like him who can make the difference. We want to keep him because we know he is so important for us.Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny, on their talisman Alexis Sanchez
Up until four hours before kick-off, Sanchez wasn't even playing against Sunderland. He was out of the picture with a thigh injury.
But Wenger understood the psyche of his striker.
"Once he is on the pitch and has the ball," he said of Sanchez, "he becomes the devil and forgets his pain."
But Wenger forgets that Sanchez is a devil surrounded by fleet-footed angels, the kind that goes missing when robust fixtures get too physical.
As long as Sanchez is an exception, Arsenal will never rule.
Mesut Oezil, Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs, Hector Bellerin, Theo Walcott, Mohamed Elneny and so forth are essentially different sides of the same player.
Nifty in possession, easy on the eye and always comfortable against like-minded opposition, these men disappear faster than Arsenal's boardroom during the transfer window when Sam Allardyce unleashes his snarling pit-bulls.
33 Alexis Sanchez has been directly involved in 33 EPL goals this season (23 goals, 10 assists), more than any other player.
Losing 3-0 at Crystal Palace last month was a result more in keeping with the Gunners' decline, the kind of game where their wallflowers wither.
Arsenal's traditional surge for Champions League qualification has added a slight gloss to a decayed campaign, but the late resistance will prove futile.
Wenger doesn't deserve the top four because he has signed too many artistic snowflakes and not enough men like Sanchez.
He picked an injured striker because there was no alternative, no other devil available to stick a pitched fork through weary Sunderland hearts.
The Chilean is Arsenal's only shot at top-four redemption. He's also Arsenal's only prized asset to sell in the summer.
Even then, he isn't likely to command the kind of salary that his agents expect.
He's been tarnished by Arsenal's brand to a degree, a big fish in a shrinking pond that isn't taken particularly seriously anymore.
It's not a coincidence that the leading candidates for Sanchez's signature are Chelsea and Manchester United. When it comes to poaching, the usual suspects in Spain, Italy and Germany neither want nor particularly need him.
But Arsenal most certainly do. Sanchez is their only bargaining chip in a competitive transfer market.
Retaining his services is a statement of intent, a promise that the Gunners intend to compete with the big boys and return to the Champions League quickly.
Apart from Oezil, whose wayward star is losing its lustre, Sanchez is a magnet for the game's leading mavericks, a tractor beam to pull in those with similar strengths and attributes.
Previously, Wenger's stature and success were enough to at least interest the leading properties on the market, but that moment has passed.
All he can do now is convince Sanchez to stay, whatever the cost, and persuade the restless striker that the Gunners intend to compete next season.
If he fails, Wenger loses the most determined competitor in his squad and any remaining credibility at the club.
More than that, Sanchez's sale would confirm Arsenal's status as a "selling club" living off past glories.
In effect, they would become the new Tottenham.
For long-suffering Gunners, that might be the final straw.